The Towering Tale of Delhi – A Qutub Minar Guide

posted in: Asia, Delhi, Heritage, India | 30

“Is it your first time at the Qutub Minar in Delhi?” – your question. My answer – “Nope – not the first and not the 2nd either”. “Well then, you must be a scholar on all the Qutub Minar Information” – you might be saying. My answer at the beginning of my third tour – “Not really”. However, if this conversation took place after the end of my third tour – I would say –  “I am now an expert guide to the Qutub Minar – all thanks to Tourio”. It is time to make you a master of the Qutub Minar complex with my journey through this travel guide on one of the key places to see in Delhi.

Qutub Minar - one of the key attractions of Delhi

What changed between the first few visits and the last one is that I had downloaded an audio application called Tourio onto my Android phone. The audio guide told me details about the Qutb Minar complex that I had completely missed the first time around. It also gave me details about the things that I had seen but not close enough. I returned with a newfound love for the Qutub Minar which I translate into this guide. Just so that you too know it all when you include it in your Delhi sightseeing itinerary.

The history of Qutub Minar

If you are asking me “Who built the Qutub Minar?”, the answer is not a straightforward one. It was started by the founder of the Delhi Sultanate – Qutbuddin Aibak. It was this victory over Delhi that he attempted to symbolize with the Qutb Minar. He managed to get only one storey made in Mehrauli 1199 AD. It was his successor and son-in-law – the famous slave king Iltutmish who continued the construction to include three more levels. Lightning destroyed the top floor of this construction in the 1360s. It was the then ruler of Delhi – Feroz Shah Tughlaq who not only replaced that damaged floor but added one more on top of it.

The two floors of the Qutb Minar added by the Tughlaq King

They say that even Alauddin Khilji added some touches to the Qutub Minar. However, the tyrant that he was, he did not contribute any major aspects to the pillar and tried to build his own. All in all the current Qutub Minar, with all its builders, took around 75 years to be completed. The towering pillar is not the only thing that this UNESCO heritage site has. It is an entire complex of monuments including a mosque, a few tombs and even a school termed as the Madrasa. So be prepared to spend at least one hour here for there are just loads to take in at this must-visit place in Delhi.

Qutub Minar Information – timings & entrance fees

  • The Qutb Minar Complex is open from 6 am to 6 pm, every day.
  • The best time to visit the Qutub Minar, as per the Tourio Guide is at Sunrise or at the Sunset. The audio guide told me that the minaret against the dawn or dusk looks quite heavenly.
  • The entrance fees for Indians are INR 30 while for the foreigners it is INR 500. You can purchase them online through the Delhi Tourism website.

Start of the Tourio Tour

I plugged in my earphones at the entrance of the Qutub Minar and tapped open my downloaded Tourio tour of the Qutb complex. The opening screen showcased the entire layout of the Qutub Minar Complex. There were 13 different audio points that I could see on the map. From my prior visits, I recalled only two major ones – the soaring Qutub Minar and an Iron Pillar close to it. Seeing the other points of interest in the Qutub Minar complex, made me realize how shallow my last few visits were. In my defense, they were really long back – the first one being when I was a kid. 😉 .

Qutub Minar information on Tourio indicates at least 13 spots to be visited

Excited and armed with the new discovery, this Indiana Jones of yours pressed the start button of the audio guide and proceeded to discover the hidden gems of the Qutub Minar.

The Sarai in Qutub Minar

My first stop actually took me away from the path leading to the minar. Just after the entrance, on the left, behind the greens lay a Sarai. Sarai is a resting place for travelers. My audio guide informed me that it was possibly built by the Mughals in the 1700s and had rooms for the voyagers. It also, explained the black domed mosque next to it.

The Mosque at the entrance of the Qutub Minar

Note the typical Mughal styled gardens. If you recall, in my earlier post on the Humayun’s tomb, I explained this style of the garden. Called the Charbagh style, it is said to depict the gardens of Paradise. Look around the Sarai and you will be able to spot just the same type here.

The Charbagh styled gardens are a feature of a lot of Mughal monuments. The Humayun’s tomb in Delhi is just one of the examples. The other popular place that you can view the Charbagh gardens at the Wonder of the World – Taj Mahal. Click through the respective links and learn more about them all. 

Quwwat-Ul-Islam mosque

The Courtyard of Quwwat Ul Islam Mosque, Qutub Minar, Delhi

I always assumed that the open structure near the Minar was just a Pavillion. It was my audio guide that corrected this impression. The place was actually a mosque by the name – Quwwat ul Islam. The name means “Might of Islam”. The mosque was set up by Qutub Uddin Aibak himself in the 1190s. As I understand, this makes it one of the first few mosques in India. It is also, a very unique mosque for its architecture and designs have elements of Hindu and Jain religions within them.  Bet that fact has made you raise your eyebrows 😉 And if you don’t believe me, see for yourself in the picture below.

The Indo-Islamic entrance to the Quwwat Ul Islam mosque

This is the entrance to the mosque. On the top, you see the Arabic scripts while right below it, is a face. This is called the Kirti Mukha – a carving that is present in the Shiva temples. It is the rare fusion of these two religions that makes the Quwwat ul Islam mosque an important Qutub Minar attraction.

Darpan Sundari - the defaced woman looking into the mirror

As you walk into the mosque, the numerous carved temple pillars are further testament to this unique merging of styles. The audio guide by Tourio kept drawing my attention to the intricate details of the pillars. In a way, listening to the guide and attempting to find it got me deeper into the role of Indiana Jones. It was like following the clues to find that Darpan Sundari (woman with a mirror) or the etching of Lord Ganesha. I could have sworn that there was possibly a magic button that opened to an underground passage – well! Don’t laugh! That is how it happens in all the movies 😉

The intricate Hindu carvings on the pillars of the mosque in Qutub Minar

Now for the actual reason as to why there is this kind of fusion. It is believed that since Aibak was in a hurry to announce his glorious victory in India, he wanted to get the mosque built faster. His artisans therefore, got him around 450 odd pillars by destroying 27 Hindu and Jain temples. It is those pillars that currently, stand tall in the Qutub Minar complex. Some archaeologists also, believe that the mosque has been built on the remains of a temple.

The gorgeous ceiling of Quwwat Ul Islam mosque in Delhi

The audio guide that I was listening too, not just gave me this information but also, shared the importance of the unusual construction of the mosque by way of using styles like the corbelled arches. It made me look at the doorways with new eyes. The main prayer hall of the mosque gives you a great way of the minar and I did spend a few moments just taking in the magnificent symbol of victory.

Alai Minar in the Qutub Minar complex

Remember I mentioned that Alauddin Khilji, a later ruler of Delhi, tried to make a minar of his own?  You can see it right here in the Qutb Minar Complex. It looks like a heap of rubble that has fused together. A lot of us might even mistake it as a pile of ruins. However, the Alai Minar is the unfinished feat of the Khilji king.

Alai Minar in the Qutub Complex

Up close, I realized how big the pillar actually was. It was much wider than the Qutub Minar and the first storey (the only one) was definitely bigger than the Qutub. The audio guide mentioned the length as 25 meters. At that rate, the Alai Minar would have been double the size of Qutub Minar. Guess, it might have been as beautiful too but well, with its creator gone, we will never know.

The Tomb of Iltutmish

The tomb of Iltutmish in Qutub Minar Complex

The 2nd ruler of Delhi and the successor to Qutub Uddin Aibak has been buried in the Qutub Minar complex, right behind the Quwat ul Islam mosque. The red and white structure was visible to me as I walked away from the Alai Minar towards the mosque. In contrast to the Indo – Islamic architecture of the mosque, the tomb was largely Islamic. The red and white contrast reminded me of the Agra Fort – where Akbar favored the red sandstone and his grandson – Shahjahan loved the white marble.

The carvings on the tomb walls
The contrasting colors of the Mihrab and the walls in the tomb

However, in this case, it was only the tomb and the Mihrab that were prominently white. Two major aspects of this monument fascinated me. The first was the plain Quranic designs around the various arches of the tomb. They were almost like floral motifs and looked quite beautiful.

The 2nd was the absence of a ceiling – a fact that the audio guide drew my attention to. As per the guide, the tomb was squarish and if one looked at the open ceiling, it too will, resemble the shape. The construction term used was squinches. I believe that is where a dome is inserted. The dome succumbed to the sands of time and hence, the open to sky tomb.

Alauddin Khilji’s Madrasa

The Madrasa built by Khilji

Well, Khiji did leave another mark in the complex. Right ahead of the tomb, away from the Quwwat Ul Islam mosque, are a set of large arches. These are remains of the educational institute called the Madrasa. It was built by Alauddin Khalji and has rooms for the students and possibly, even a library. Somewhere behind is the tomb of this ruler.

The passages within the Madrasa

Walking around the Madrasa did give me a feeling that in its heydays this might have been an important place. The sheer magnitude of its rooms and passages is largely the reason. A word of caution though – the passages lead to unseen corners where you might find a feisty couple spending quality time 😉

The Iron Pillar at Qutub Minar

Besides the main Qutub Minar, it was the Iron pillar that I recalled from my childhood trip. I remember how my brother and I stood with our backs and tried to hug the pillar to make a wish. As the legend goes, only one that manages to encircle the pillar gets his wish. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. However, Tourio had another story to share. It is said that the soldier who managed to hug the pillar with his arms meeting was perfect for the army and hence, was recruited. I am sure you are all ready to try your luck but with the little barricade around, it is no longer possible to touch the pillar.

The Iron Pillar at the Qutub Minar Complex

It wasn’t just this story that made the pillar an important place to visit in the Qutub Minar complex. It was its origin. Easily the oldest in this area, the pillar dates back to the age of Chandragupta Maurya – i.e. 550 AD or earlier. The pillar has Sanskrit inscriptions that you can read even today. The top of the pillar is said to have had the statue of Garuda. However, today, there are no traces of it.

The total height of the pillar is 7.2 m of which around 93 cms is below the ground. Even in that day and age, the science behind making it must have been so strong that there is hardly any rusting. It is said that the British tried to destroy it with hammers and cannons but failed miserably.

Sanskrit inscriptions on the Iron Pillar

The original site of the pillar was elsewhere but the last Hindu king of Delhi – Anangpal Tomar brought it here. He set it up to celebrate the birth of his grandson. However, in the process, he incurred the wrath of a saint. What and why? Well, it seems he expressed doubt about an auspicious prediction made by the saint. The angry saint cursed him saying that his dynasty would fall with him and sure enough, Anangpal Tomar was the last of the Tomar dynasty to rule Delhi.

Screens around the Iron Pillar

The screens around Qutub Minar mosque

It is hard not to be fascinated by the surrounding doorways and screens near the iron pillar. Part of the Quwwat Ul Islam mosque, these were built by Aibak, Iltutmish and Tughlaq. The floral motifs that mesh with the Islamic scripts add certain glitz to these doorways. This is where you can see the corbelled arches even more clearly. The squares that end up in a pointed arch.

Check out the corbel arches in the Qutub Minar complex

The architecture of the Qutub Minar

The tapering Qutub Minar has five stories and is located in the Mehrauli region of Delhi

It was now time to get to the centerpiece of this UNESCO complex. The Qutub Minar kept teasing me at various points of my journey. With every step that I took towards it, it beckoned me to get up, close and personal with the details. Best I enumerate the various Qutub Minar facts first and then, share the little secrets I discovered.

  • The total height of the Qutub Minar is 73 m.
  • It is 14.3 m at the base and tapers up to 2.7 m
  • It has 379 stairs within it to reach the top. Yes, you can climb to the top. However, no! You are not allowed anymore, following a stampede in 1981. An electricity failure resulted in a rush that killed around 47 people, including a few school kids.
  • The Minar has been made with red sandstone largely. The basic construction involves limestone mortar – which is believed to help the minar withstand the tremors of an earthquake
Close up of the Qutub Minar facade

When you go close to the Qutub Minar, you will notice the Quranic verses inscribed onto its facade. Along with the same, are calligraphic inscriptions in Parso-Arabic and Sanskrit scripts on the fluted facade. There are inscriptions around the entrance of the Minar that indicate the various people involved in the construction. As per the audio guide that I was listening to, even Sikander Lodi is said to have contributed to some part of the Qutub Minar.

The mix of floral motifs amid the Arabic calligraphy adds a unique touch to the Qutub Minar

The presence of the white marble on 4th and 5th floor is indicative of the construction by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. Even though he favored a different material, he ensured that there was some uniformity in the design.

The balconies that you can see when you look up

I almost got a crick in my neck while attempting to admire the intricate work on the balconies. I only wish I had a ladder to see it from close. The closed doors of the minar teased me. I only hoped that someone saw me and opened the lock to let me climb this tower of victory. Maybe, the authorities should allow a limited number of people for a fee – quite like how they do at the leaning tower of Pisa. At least that way, thirsty souls like me will find their satiation.

Exiting through the Alai Darwaza

The play of light and shadow within the Alai Darwaza

Once done with the Minar (actually, you are never done, just a phrase), you should walk through the elaborate gateway next to it. This is called the Alai Darwaza. It was built by Khilji as an entrance. The Tourio audio guide describes it as one of the best places to experience sunset at the Qutub Minar. I recall this being true from last but one experience here. The light filtering through the jaalis or the perforated windows of the gateway did create a certain magic.

The Alai Darwaza has a true arch. When you look at this one and compare it to the squarish corbelled arches of the mosque, you will realize how the architecture evolved.

The tomb of Imam Zamin near the Alai Darwaza

Past the gateway, I noticed a small tomb-like structure. The Tourio guide marked it as the 12th monument in the complex and identified it for me as the tomb of Imam Zamin. It was a later addition to the complex – possibly in the 1530s. The Imam’s tomb is quite small and you can step within to see it fully. However, compared to the rest of the complex, it is not as significant.

Discovering Smith’s Folly

Smith's folly at the exit of Qutub Minar

Last but not the list was a small cupola, almost close to the exit. It was called Smith’s Folly. Well, it was supposed to replace the cupola that Tughlaq had made for the minar and which had got destroyed. Major Robert Smith of the Royal Engineers did get it done but it was removed by Lord Hardinge – the British Viceroy. The reason – it did not fit with the architecture of the Qutub Minar. Ever since then, it is called Smith’s folly and has been kept away from the minar.

Well, that concludes my tour of the Qutub Minar. Hopefully, with this travel guide to the Qutub Minar, you too, have discovered some unknown or lesser-visited facets of the UNESCO site. I am pretty sure you are now eager to get going with this Delhi Tourist attraction. Just remember to do two things before that – one pin-up one of these bookmarks and two – download your personal audio guide – Tourio.

How to get the Tourio Audio Guide?

  • The Tourio Audio Guide currently, is available only for android phones. You can download the same for free through this link.
  • The App is being developed for IOS too. It will be up and running soon.
  • Once you have downloaded the app, you can browse through the various audio guides available. A few of them are free while for the ones like the Qutub Minar are available for a fee of INR 100
  • Make sure that you download the guide before entering the Qutub Minar.
  • The guide is GPS enabled. Keep your location on so that it can share the relevant facts about the monument you are standing in front of.
  • You can operate the guide manually as well by clicking the location on the map.
  • Here is my personal experience with recommendations on using Tourio.

How to get to the Qutub Minar?

  • The easiest way to reach the Qutub Minar is by taking the metro. The Qutub Minar station is around 1.5 km from the attraction and you can either walk it down or hire an auto to get to the gates.
  • There are plenty of public and tourist buses that take you to the Qutub Minar in Delhi. You can find information on them through this website.
  • In case you wish to hire a private car, consider this link.
  • There are plenty of Uber and Ola cabs that can be booked through the mobile apps for the Qutub Minar.

Travel Tips

  • The Qutub Minar Complex is well equipped with cafes and washrooms
  • You are not allowed to carry any bags into the complex. Only a camera bag is allowed. There is a cloakroom near the entrance, where you can deposit your bag.
  • Plenty of walking to be done. Hence, please ensure you wear comfortable walking shoes and carry a hat and sunglasses too.  In winters, warm clothes are advised.

P.S I was invited by Tourio to visit the Qutub Minar and experience their tour. However, the views and opinions expressed in the post are completely and honestly my own. 

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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